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How to install cabinets

When installing cabinets, whether it’s in a kitchen, laundry room, or utility cabinets in a garage, they all have the same basic set of installation requirements. A few simple tools are required and found in most handyman tool buckets. Pencils, good four foot level carpenters, tape measure, screw gun, several Quick Type C clamps, and a chalk line is a great start. If you have the use of a tripod with a builder level (or you can rent one for the day), this will greatly speed up the work. Starting at either end of the cabinet set, make a pencil mark four feet above the floor. Now, using the four foot level, transfer that mark along the wall to the other end of the cabinet and make another pencil mark. Measure to the floor to see if you are four feet above the floor. If you are exactly four feet tall, then your floor is level. If it is longer than four feet, then you know that the floor slopes towards that end. If you turn the cabinets on that low end, you won’t be able to keep the cabinets level before running “to” the floor. If you start at the four-foot end that you started with, you will be able to shim the cabinets so that they all remain at the same height above the floor.

If your cabinets have what’s called a four-inch tall toe feature, you may have the option of cutting this four-inch height down to make up for a small difference in floor heights. Be careful, cutting too much can make cabinets appear stubby. If the cabinets came with a separate set of already framed finger kicks, this also makes leveling a lot easier. Just attach the base cabinet brackets and check if they are level. A few shims or minor cuts to provide a perfect subbase make installation of the base cabinet a breeze. You don’t need to worry if each cabinet is level, as the bases will do it automatically.

Once the sub-bases for the lower cabinets are in place, I recommend that you install the upper cabinets next as it is easier. Once the wider base cabinets are installed, the narrower top cabinets are more difficult to work with. Simply measure from the sub-base to get the top of the cabinets, add the thickness of the counter, add the space you want between the lower and upper cabinets (usually eighteen inches), and make a pencil mark. That is the bottom of your upper cabinets. Since your subbase is level, simply transfer the top cabinet mark along the path and you have a mark to place the bottom of each top cabinet. Next, locate all the wall studs and make a vertical mark using your level that will protrude both above and below the cabinets.

This way, you won’t be reaching for a stud while standing on a ladder and swinging a cabinet.

They are a few minutes of work well spent. Next, remove all the cabinet doors marking each of which are marked as to which cabinets they belong to as well.

If you are working alone, take a one-by-two-inch piece of furring and screw it into the wall flush with the bottom of the upper cabinet mark. You can rest the cabinet on the furring while plumbing the cabinet and securing it to the wall. Starting with the first cabinet, go ahead and bolt the cabinet securely to the studs with three-inch drywall screws. You can either countersink them or use thread washers depending on what you want the final look to be.

Attach two C-clamps to the first cabinet, lift the second cabinet into place, and using the C-clamps, securely attach the front face stud from the first cabinet to the second. The combination of the wall furring strip and the two clamps will allow you to detach and do the work of attaching the second cabinet to the wall and to each other. Ensuring that the front faces are perfectly aligned with each other and that the heights are perfectly matched, standard practice is to pre-drill a screw hole behind the door hinge. Using drywall screws again, insert a screw into the hole making sure the screw does not penetrate through the stud of the other cabinet (too long). Place one screw behind each hinge. Now attach the second cabinet to the wall and then release the clamps. This same scenario is repeated until reaching the end of the cabinets. You may have gaps where there is a window, but your furring strip will ensure that both sections are mounted at the same height.

With the top cabinets mounted, go ahead and install the base cabinets in exactly the same way. Each cabinet bolted from side to side and then to the wall. Once all the cabinets have been installed, go ahead and install the countertops. Splash work, electrical connections for microwaves or range hoods, and their actual installations must be done prior to reinstalling the doors. You want to handle the doors with care, as they are most of what people actually see. Level the doors, install the drawer and door handles, and you’re done.

Almost all municipalities require a building permit for this type of work, since in a kitchen it involves plumbing, electricity, perhaps heating, and also possible structural changes. A set of garage work storage cabinets may not include any of these items, but be safe and ask first.

Pete ackerson
Your friendly building inspector
BICES-Building Inspection & Code Enforcement System Software

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